When we got hold of the Akai MPC Renaissance, I wanted to push a review out as quickly as possible. After an evening, it became clear that doing so just wouldn’t do the MPC Renaissance justice. Akai is legendary in music production circles for its MPC range, and MPC Renaissance is just too important a product to churn out a subpar write up. That’s not the OD way. Thus, a couple of weeks and countless hours logged later, here’s our – we like to think THE – definitive MPC Renaissance review with MPC Software 1.1…
Akai have obviously really thought about what the key parts of the MPC experience are, and used the hybrid computer setup to both augment it and streamline it. There’s absolutely no doubt that sitting in front of the MPC Renaissance feels just like using a classic MPC for the most part, and Akai have cherry picked the best features of previous MPCs’ workflow decisions. Dedicated buttons for features like sample chopping are in, shift layers for pads are out. Six function buttons below the screen and dedicated pad bank buttons are in, gone are fader Q Links, which make way for infinite motion pots with LED feedback.
The cursor, number, note repeat, 16 level and full level buttons are out in full force, so if you’re used to a particular way of working on an MPC you’re almost certainly going to be able to transfer straight over to MPC Renaissance. Better yet, the quality of the construction is fantastic. All pots are metal and nutted to the face plate, the data wheel is a massive return to buttery, precise form for the series after the clunky feel to the MPC 2500 and 5000, and the Q-Link rotary pots are easily the best they’ve ever been. The hinged display is silky smooth, and the MPC 3000 (which goes down in many peoples’ books as the best constructed MPC) influence is clear, with large transport buttons, a padded wrist rest, and a general no compromise feel when it comes to MPC Renaissance’s size.
As mentioned, one thing missing from the MPC Renaissance in terms of physical functionality is any form of Q Link slider pots. In practice this isn’t really a big deal; I certainly didn’t use the sliders that much in days of old because having just one or two sliders, physical positions and all, gets confusing when switching what they’re controlling. Add to that the way that external MIDI control is available on the MPC Software and if sliders are your thing you can add in your favourite flavour without encroaching on the MPC Renaissance’s size or ergonomics one bit. If adding to the setup isn’t your thing, the infinite motion rotaries with LED positional feedback might not have the fader feel but their ability to change on the spot so nothing’s ever out of whack between MPC Renaissance and MPC Software is brilliant.
The pots themselves really are pots despite their infinite motion and no start/end points. Akai achieve this by reading the pot twice and integrating the result into a relative change, but because this is a pot not an encoder there’s no inherent stepping through values. Ironically, though, software stepping is sometimes easily noticeable when tweaking things like filters, bizarrely affecting Akai’s own plugins the most. I’d venture that this is an issue that Akai can work on ironing out, but they definitely should.
That iconic grey grid of pads scream MPC more than anything else about the series, and Akai wisely recognised the importance of keeping the MPC Renaissance’s pad section as similar in look and feel as they possibly could whilst adding to their quality and functionality too. Having seen the MPC Renaissance in various stages of completion over the course of the year, the final production model’s pads really impressed me. Whilst the prototypes looked and felt pretty MPC-like, Akai have obviously looked really hard at how to make sure the pads were identical, and rather than the glowing pad edges that were on the prototypes (pictures of which are still some of the first you’ll bump into in a cursory Google search) the pad is now solid grey rubber much deeper into the faceplate with any glowing emanating almost from beneath the pad itself. It’s a much classier look than having light beaming out of the edges of the pads all the way up, and allows you, should you choose, to turn most light feedback off and give the pads a true ‘classic’ look.
Running your hands over the MPC Renaissance’s pads and then over a previous model – in my case the MPC 2500 – doesn’t betray anything about the difference. My highly scientific ‘close your eyes, spin round on the spot and feel for the difference’ test just left me with a mild headache. The rubber is exactly the same, but the actual construction of the pads isn’t; the pad base now feels solid. I struggle to think of reasons why you might prefer the MPC pads of yore where the corners could be pushed in, but perhaps if you’re a sucker for tradition you might find this change a little jarring. For the rest of us, the response across the whole pad is smoother and the first touch sensitivity of the sensor can be set a little bit lighter. I did find that the more you increased the sensitivity of the pads the more squished up the velocity response was, but at default settings it feels just a little more snappy. Nonetheless curves and sensitivity can be set precisely to your liking, and all 16 pads behave exactly the same.
If there is a quibble about the pads, it’s that the lighting isn’t the best we’ve ever seen. Four colours are available, though: green, orange, red, and yellow, along with variable brightness, and in reality due to MPC Renaissance’s overall design considerations colour isn’t a big part of the interface and so they serve plenty well enough for everything but eye candy (and music’s not really about eye candy, is it?). It’s also a shame that loading samples into pads doesn’t automatically light up the pad. Choosing a colour for a pad is a button press away, but by default pads are in blackout mode. Considering the most useful function of backlit pads is their ability to communicate where sounds are (and where they aren’t), having to manually set this up feels a bit like Akai missed a trick, opting instead for the more ‘ooooooh’ friendly velocity>colour feedback as a default.
Q Link Knobs
Just like the pads, the Q Link knobs are Akai’s best ever. They’re smooth, securely nutted to the chassis, and the LED feedback is smooth and lag free. Perhaps the most interesting thing about them, though, is how much of the MPC Renaissance workflow is based around them. Controls that would on previous MPCs have been navigated to with the D-pad and manipulated with the jog wheel are now aligned in a 4×4 grid, with each control corresponding to a Q Link knob. This makes editing faster than ever, and it’s very intuitive. There are other subtle ways in which the knobs have been integrated into the workflow throughout, such as their start/end point adjustment in editing screens, and there’s also a dedicated page for each program with customisable parameters and a similarly customisable global effects page that is useful for live performance and tweaking.
MPC Renaissance is a controller for MPC Software, but it also has a big selling point. Built in is an audio and MIDI interface that’s been specifically designed not only to provide the lowest latency for the closest-to-standalone performance possible, but the audio input and output components are actually based on designs from the much lauded MPC 3000 – with the converter section updated to 24/96 standard. I think that one of the biggest benefits to a computer based setup is the combined ease and cost effectiveness at which digital, in-the-box multitracking can be done compared to getting the same quality outboard, but if your workflow’s engrained into your very being and you’re used to tracking out each of your tracks as audio ready to mix, the sound coming out of the MPC Renaissance is very similar to what you’ll have come to expect from MPC.
The vintage modes that the MPC Software is capable of (MPC 3000, MPC 60, and ‘other’, which is an E-mu SP1200 emulation) are based in software and emulate the various limitations and characterful electronics decisions of these classic pieces of gear, and rather than being emulated on a per-sound basis the emulation is placed at the main output stage to make it clear all the way through the unit’s operation.
Whether or not we were just hearing a the effect of this output change, a big part of the vintage modes in our testing was the way that the different vintage modes handled levels, especially clipping, when recording. True to form, pushing the levels on the MPC 60 mode gives a more upfront and compressed sound than when 24/96 ‘modern’ mode is selected, modern/standard mode giving the overdriven sounds’ distortion nowhere to hide.
As well as the main stereo outputs, there are two assignable mix outs for the MPC Renaissance, headphone out and foot switch inputs on the front, and S/PDIF I/O. Space constraints mean that there’s not going to be an expansion down the line, which is perhaps a little unfortunate for users who are used to sending out all their audio from the MPC into a mixer, but MPC Software’s ability to use any audio interface connected to your computer means that should you want to go down this route, a third party sound card with multiple outputs is what you should be looking at.
Something that Akai have, wisely, kept the same is the MIDI interface on the MPC Renaissance. Two inputs and four outputs via 5 pin DIN sockets ensure that you won’t have to compromise your outboard connections if swapping out an older MPC, and whilst I’d venture that most of you don’t have anything like the amount of 5 pin only MIDI equipment needed to make this a worthwhile feature, it’ll be indispensable for those of you that do.
Akai’s decision to make MPC Software controllable by third party MIDI controllers is a welcome one, and one that will help the MPC Renaissance to sit in the middle of your studio much more comfortably. Connection is simple, and most things can be controlled by MIDI notes and CCs – program change messages can be set to multiple things too, which is a bonus for people who perform live in different ways. There is a downside to this, though, and it is that MPC Renaissance acts as a dongle for MPC Software. If MPC Renaissance isn’t plugged in, no sound will be available from the MPC Software. We can see Akai’s trepidation about allowing MIDI control but not requiring the MPC itself to be connected, as the temptation for some would-be users to pirate the software (remember people, piracy is bad) and use their own MIDI controllers could damage the reputation of the new generation of MPCs, but historically dongles have often proved to punish legitimate users. If (unfortunately, often when) dongle locked software is cracked, legitimate users will have less functionality than illegitimate ones. Akai, maybe the dongle could prohibit external MIDI control when the MPC isn’t plugged in instead? This would allow some on-the-move keyboard and mouse editing of an MPC project and allow users to open and play projects for a quick listen, but lock down the advantages of what is at its heart a very controller based workflow.
The first thing to decide when looking at the MPC Renaissance as a whole is what to compare it to; is it best looked at as an evolution of standalone MPCs before it, thrown into the ring with software (the obvious head on collision being Native Instruments’ Maschine), or should we avoid pigeon holing it entirely and try to consider it in its own bubble? It might be noble to do the latter, but inevitably when looking in terms of value, the things MPC Renaissance is bumping shoulders with – or standing on the shoulders of – come into play. For instance, this is the largest sound library that Akai have ever included with an MPC, with multiple gigabytes of instruments. It also puts a vastly larger selection of effects and capabilities at your finger tips than ever before, but the way that it does both of these things, and, presumably, delivers such an enticingly built unit, is by removing the brain of the MPC itself. And its heart, lungs, liver, and a variety of assorted giblets.
So what of the new world of features finally opened up to MPC with MPC Software? The obvious big ticket addition is the ability to use plugins – be they VST or AU – in the software. In allowing this, Akai needed to come up with a way for the classic ‘program’ mode and plugin hierarchy to be happy bed partners, and at the same time make effects just as intuitive. In most ways they’ve succeeded with aplomb.
As well as plugin capability, MPC Renaissance can act as a plugin within a DAW for deeper integration. Whilst this does work very well at what it does, and as much as we’ve really tried not to make this a comparison piece between MPC Renaissance and its obvious competitor Maschine, Maschine has really showed how tight DAW integration as a plugin can be and MPC Software’s lack of MIDI or audio drag and drop is a bit disappointing (although with the different workflows of the two, simply asking for exactly Maschine’s functionality in MPC Renaissance would be a bit facile). MIDI out connectivity is tight, though, and – in case we need to nail the point home any further – the very fact that MPC Software exists bodes well for updates so hopefully this is something Akai will be looking at for the future.
Sampling and editing
MPC Renaissance’s selection of inputs has all bases covered – after all, it is a sampling workstation. There are two balanced combi jack inputs, which can be set to phantom power, and two RCA inputs which can be set to line or phono level. I’ve no complaints about the quality of the line inputs on the balanced or unbalanced inputs, and the gain stage for phantom power is good too – a lot of gain is available before things start getting ugly. If you have a high quality mixer that you use as a preamp, with EQ onboard, it’s probably better to stick with that than use the built in phono preamp on the MPC Renaissance, but the phono preamp gives a balanced sound and pretty good SNR. It’s always nice to have the option of a built in turntable preamp because it makes travelling light that much lighter, and it sounds better than the built in preamp of a portable turntable.
All the destructive editing you will want to regularly do on the sample you’ve just recorded/imported is available from the familiar (to MPC users) edit options. Discard, add silence, copy section, normalise and manual gain change, reverse, fade in and out, pitch shift and time stretch (which, powered by Izotope’s algorithms, sound excellent at much more extreme settings than has ever been feasible on previous MPCs) are all there, as is bit reduce (which is perhaps a little outdated, considering the memory and storage space advantages of moving the MPC’s brain into your computer and the versatility of doing bit reduction effects non destructively via modelling effects) and stereo>mono.
I left stereo>mono until last because, strangely enough, it’s the only one that doesn’t give you the option of being destructive. Everything else will happily over write the original sample, which in a ‘pre-creative’ editing environment is what you want, but stereo>mono can only copy to a new file. Functionally it works fine other than that, and will mono either channel or sum them both together, but I encountered a very frustrating issue that arises from this mono-shyness. Because chopping is done destructively, as we’ll talk about below, it’s not uncommon to have 16 or more separate sample files to work on after chopping. This is just something you have to learn to live with when operating an MPC, but in the course of sampling a fairly widely stereo separated vinyl you will have to make the choice to mono the sound before chopping or be faced with the task of manually creating a mono file from each sliced audio file and then manually replacing each of the audio files in your program with its mono equivalent.
Sample chopping, the hallmark of MPC, is back better than ever in MPC Renaissance. There’s transient detection, auto-BPM slicing, and manual Chop to be had, and whilst manual slicing and transient detection aren’t new, they’re both better than ever. Transient detection was never particularly great on the latter day MPCs that introduced it, as whilst it provided good results on very simple material, it didn’t take much to confuse it. I’m happy to say that transient detection in MPC Software is now much better, and so too is the manual chopping.
Manual slicing is very well implemented, with the ability to audition samples in place on the pads whilst slicing and before committing, and start and end point adjustable with different coarseness across the Q links – from course to fine going down each column – with start and end on different columns and snap being ‘smart’ when it comes to which coarseness knob you’re using. Slice start and end points can be independent of other slices, or get linked to the start/end of the slices either side; different ways of working make each approach valid, and the ability to choose is a very nice consideration.
Once you’ve created your slices in the Chop window, it’s time to commit them to a program. The classic way of slicing creates new WAV files from each of your slices and places them on the pads, and should you wish you can also lay down the timing information of the slices as MIDI so that your sample plays back with its triggered notes as if it weren’t sliced at all. Of course, this works best when slicing a sound that loops properly, otherwise it’s pretty superfluous. Seasoned MPC users will already be expecting this, but new to the MPC workflow is a ‘non cropped’ chopping option that creates copies of the original file whilst instead of truncating the slices, simply adjusts slice start and end points on each to allow retrospective editing. Rather than a single file that is referenced multiple times, the actual copies of the original sound takes more space but gives the user the power to effect each slice differently – and the few megabytes of space isn’t really an issue when the entire storage and memory capacity of your computer is what’s driving MPC Renaissance.
Patched Phrase, another function introduced in the more recent MPCs, is something of a… well, it’s not something I use particularly, but it could be handy for some. Patched Phrases contain timing and slicing information to allow you to easily create loops that will rest on a single pad. Issues with previous incarnations of Patched Phrase have been ironed out; a Patched Phrase is fully stereo and its slices can be re-edited at will. There’s unfortunately no way to get at the slices inside the patched phrase, though, and so whilst I can see definite merits for stocking large numbers of loops in a program for triggering live, I think an approach whereby a sample is sliced into its own program is preferable, especially with note event creation on tracks now available. This allows you to get at slices individually, which provides the option for some live reworking of loops.
The MPC sequencing design has stayed more or less the same since its inception. Sounds are loaded into Programs, Programs are attached to Tracks, which hold looped sequencing data for the Programs, a group of Tracks is held in a Sequence, and multiple Sequences are arranged in a Song. Working in this way makes a lot of sense, and it’s a way of working that’s been used to different degrees in lots of other software and hardware over the years.
MPC Renaissance doesn’t really add anything on top of this loop based sequencing, and hasn’t taken the opportunity of harnessing any more DAW-like linear workflow into the MPC Software. Whilst previous MPCs have had audio track capability, albeit limited in various degrees, MPC Software so far doesn’t; hopefully the ability to sequence linear audio over song mode is something that Akai will be adding in to MPC Software in an update or so.
The screen resolution of the MPC Renaissance’s lovely screen is definitely a step forward when it comes to sequencing, though, with track muting, playing tracks, song sequencing and more easier than ever to distinguish with a glance at the screen.
Browsing the Library
Something drove me just about crazy with MPC Software: There’s no way to manually create a blank program from the MPC Renaissance controller itself. Programs are either created after slicing, loaded, or copied, and creating a new program is done from a drop down menu in the MPC Software window on the computer. When Akai helpfully pointed this out to me it made things a lot easier, and also had the effect of speeding along a feature request for controller based new program functionality to be added as it cemented a concern that the current workflow is a little obtuse. This was a really nice moment, as it solidified Akai’s intent to make constant refinements to their new MPC range.
As far as the rest of the library goes, samples can be auditioned but unfortunately whole programs cannot. Considering there are a TON (to use the technical term) of programs included with MPC Renaissance in its stock library, this is a real shortfall. In order to hear what a program sounds like, you need to load it, switch your track to use the new program, and try it out. If you don’t like it, try again – but beware, samples remain in MPC projects until they’re removed manually, so projects quickly get very big this way.
There’s no way of narrowing things down via a descriptor in the MPC Software’s library, which means that you need to have an actual folder structure for the programs in your custom library to keep you organised. Akai haven’t done this with the included library, though, so without having prior knowledge of the (often admittedly funny) semantic names given to the programs, you’ve no real way of knowing whether you’re about to load up a realistic damped soul kit or an electronic, super compressed drum and bass kit. A tagging system, something that a lot of developers are implementing into their libraries nowadays, makes things much simpler and quicker to find the sound in your head at a pinch. Hopefully this is something Akai can look at shoehorning into MPC Software in a future update, as I think it would really help and wouldn’t require hardware buttons to achieve.
MPC Software – Onscreen
Up to now I’ve not actually spoken too much about MPC Software as a ‘thing’, more as the brain for using MPC like you’ve always used MPC. Hopefully this is indicative of the fact that MPC Software is pretty transparent, so much so that it only really occurred to me to talk about its GUI specifically away from the controller itself towards the end of writing this mammoth tome. The truth is, everything works pretty much flawlessly but it’s not the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. The screen is awash with greys of different darknesses, but it doesn’t have the classic, beautiful look of the MPC Renaissance controller so much as Windows 95 software. The interface switches around along with the controller’s screen, and the only real time that you might want to look at the screen is for the piano roll and the mixer, both of which provide more information than the MPC Renaissance screen can provide. This might be a short section, but generally speaking there’s not a huge amount to say about MPC Software’s interface, and I think that’s a good thing.
Using plugins instead of ‘native’ MPC operation is a simple case of switching your program to plugin mode (MIDI mode is also available for controlling MIDI channels). From here, as much as possible Akai have made the two modes use the same workflow. Program Edit mode switches you into the plugin’s controls, and the Window button that’s used for looking deeper into a selected control (if it has extra depth) brings you to a preset page. Just as with MPC Programs, Q Links control parameters as tied to their position on the onscreen display, and the only thing that’s missing from the controller is a way to open/close the plugin’s GUI.
Loading effects is even easier, and the list of effects automatically includes any plugins you have on your system. Loading is very quick too, and in general things feel like you’re using a hardware MPC that has a raft of extra sound generators and effects.
Effects are available per pad, per program, per track, on the master, and as send buses. With four inserts available to each level there’s plenty of creative opportunities available to you; rarely – if ever – will you need more flexibility than has been provided. The number of effects is huge too, and their quality is better than it’s ever been. Filters are lovely, there are multiple compressor models to choose from, and the delay, reverb, and phasers all have plenty of options and a natural (if that’s what you’re going for) sound. Distortion is definitely good, but if I have a gripe about any of the effects it’s that distortion seems to go from off to total destruction a little too sharply, with not quite enough subtlety in between.
Generally, and most of the time, MPC Renaissance is pretty rock solid. However, when i did encounter an issue it was related to switching values in plugins via the controller, and it was a bit of a showstopper. I can’t get to the bottom of exactly what the precise circumstances that this happens under are, but occasionally there’s a disconnect between the unit’s display and the software, and it renders the track that’s having the issue – or sometimes the whole project – mute. Akai think this might be something to do with my USB connectivity, and that could be the case – although it’s not something I’ve ever noticed before. Because this is intermittent, and because I can’t reliably make the MPC Renaissance die on command, I’m not going to say this is a bug. However we’ve seen hints of other users having similar problems with plugins and it has happened enough times in the OD Studio for me to – after much careful consideration – think it bears mentioning. In any case Akai do acknowledge that there’s an issue here, and think they’ve already come up with a fix which is built into v1.2 of the software and will hopefully be available by the time you read this (unless you’re a very early bird in which case you might need to wait a few days).
As I’ve mentioned, this is easily the most ambitious MPC stock library so far, especially if you include the add-ons that come with MPC Renaissance. Nobody ever bought an MPC for its stock library, of course, and to be brutally honest, you shouldn’t buy MPC Renaissance for it either. Don’t get me wrong, the sounds included are streets ahead of anything Akai have ever included, with lots and lots of eminently usable percussion sounds. It’s just that there are an awful lot of superfluous soundalikes and quite a lot of fairly flat sounding bumps and doofs, and when it comes to things like electronic kicks there’s a lot of clicking and popping at the very beginning of samples too. There are plenty of drum sounds that you could actually use in tracks of various genres though, and so skimming off the chaff certainly cuts down the overall size of the library, but the quality’s there – as long as you’re prepared to find it, as the library system does force you to go through every sound sequentially with your ears open.
Loop content is what it is, there’re quite a lot of electric piano, guitar, synth, and percussion loops all based around various genre boilerplates, but please don’t buy the MPC Renaissance because it has ready made musical phrases for you. Not that they’re bad, more that you shouldn’t; it’d be a shame to waste the fantastic sampling capabilities of the unit to load up pre recorded loops.
MPC Add Ons
Included free with MPC Renaissance are four plugin libraries. The first, The Bank, will as far as we know be available on MPC Studio too. The others – The Wub, The 809, and The Noise – will be available for separate purchase for MPC Studio users, but are included in the box with MPC Renaissance.
The Bank is a collection of go-to acoustic and electronic instruments. Pianos, guitars, basses, and the like all have representation, and they all sound good and ensure that if MPC Renaissance is the first thing you get in your quest to make some music, you’ll have around 6GB of sound library to play with.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth, but I wouldn’t exactly pin your purchasing decision on The Wub and The Noise. I think now that dubstep has jumped the shark that jumped the shark, and even the mainstream electronic music that’s called dubstep by marketing departments to get some free sales is finally getting a bit old, The Wub is a bit late to the party. Essentially a few gigabytes of harsh sounding sampled synths, it’s really nothing that even a half decent software synth couldn’t conjure up. I’m afraid the same goes for The Noise, too, which has plenty of chiptuney sounds, but left me pretty underwhelmed. None of this is bad, per se, but it’s just not good. It’s not something we’ll recommend MPC Studio users purchase, but there will probably be a good few sounds you can use if you look deep enough – and if your style revolves around chiptune or harsh electronica you’ll think we’re mad not to love them.
The 809 is a different story, with its high quality 808 and 909 sounds (and a few other electronic, non drum machine specific hits). If you want some clean, decent sounding drums then you’re in luck… except for one thing, and this goes for many sounds in The Wub and The Noise too. Having the sounds in multi-sampled, velocity layered instrument patches makes sense, especially if there are things going on in a plugin that aren’t replicated in MPC native mode or the kit uses a lot of sample memory, as plugins unload their sounds to load new ones unlike MPC Programs. However this often isn’t the case, and especially isn’t the case in The 809, which is really just a library of drum hits. The only conceivable reason I could think of for the decision to make these add ons as plugins rather than sounds directly accessible, with programs to match, is an effort to reduce unauthorised sharing of the sounds amongst non MPC users. Akai assure me that rather than that the 809 is designed to be a ‘standalone’ drum machine – a virtual 808 or 909 that just works, with all controls sitting in a logical and quick to tweak place – and that does make sense. This means, though, that if you want a nice, thick 808 kick from The 809 to be your main kick, but have all your other drum sounds in a program, your only options are to either have the 809 in its own track, just triggering the kick, or resample it into your MPC program, which just seems a bit of a long way round.
The more I used MPC Renaissance, the more I realised that Akai must have tried really hard not to stray from the rule book. A key part of MPC Renaissance is keeping the well known MPC feel and workflow, and this is an important point for users of older MPCs that might be tempted to jump into the new world… but only if it’s not too much hassle. To make things even easier for those on the fence potential migraters, Akai have worked hard on backward compatibility with old MPC projects, sequences, and songs. It’s promised that compatibility with every previous MPC is possible, but without a full complement of MPCs in the OD studio I couldn’t test every one. I could, however, test the MPC 2500, which works fine (although some features don’t translate perfectly, this is predictable on account of the MPC Renaissance’s reworked filters and envelopes behaving differently, albeit differently in a good way), and also projects created with the JJOS-XL, a third party operating system for the MPC 2500 that added functionality whilst at the same time changing a few core features. Akai understandably have no interest in supporting this OS, but it was encouraging to find that at least the basics are able to be picked up by MPC Software. Anything that deviates from the MPC way of doing things (non destructive slicing, for instance) doesn’t compute, but track patterns and the absolute basics of programs are there, so if you do have a few things you’re not ready to leave behind yet you can, to a degree, take them with you.
There’s so much to talk about with the MPC Renaissance, the danger is that the longer we make this review the more conspicuous the things we don’t mention will be by their absence. With that in mind, here are a couple of things that bear mentioning, but don’t need another thousand words to make them worthwhile.
MPC Renaissance includes a step sequencer. It has its own dedicated button, and it works exactly as you’d expect: the pads turn into a step grid, and the time divisions they represent can be changed on the fly. Changing pad and track can be done without coming into and out of step sequencer mode via function keys for pad and jog wheel (with track highlighted) for track. It’s a lot of fun to see this functionality in an MPC, and something that makes the lit pads definitely worth having.
There are some excellent preference features: Place events recorded during count in at start point is fantastic for those of you that might hit the first note of a bar fractionally early, and thus miss it off the recording (or be scared of this and thus record it late). It’s also nice to have an instant track mute, which works as an audio mixer mute rather than a note data mute and thus ensures that muting is more natural than it’s ever been – but of course the traditional note data mute/ignore is still available. It’s also nice to have four extra pad banks behind a shift layer, bringing the total possible in any given program to eight.
There are just a couple of weird things that bear mentioning too: Project loading is done via the context menus only, not by the File menu. This isn’t a huge deal, but it does seem like an odd omission. Another thing that started to drive me crazy was the constantly flashing Tap Tempo light, which you can’t turn off for some reason.
MPC Renassiance: Overall
Without a shadow of a doubt, MPC Renaissance has the potential to catapult Akai back to the top of their game. The controller is gorgeous and well made, it’s got great audio and MIDI capability, and it manages to merge the ‘MPC way’ with software in such a way that using MPC Renaissance still feels like using an MPC but also has all the expandible potential of a computer based solution. Effects are really nice, external MIDI control is better than ever, and MPC Software’s GUI, if not beautiful, shows things that MPC Renaissance’s screen can’t.
We’d like to see the library system improved and plugin support tightened up to rock-solid status, but for a first, housekeeping point release on the start of a new era for Akai, it’s fair to say that we’re excited to see where MPC Software can go and impressed by what’s already there.